The Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College. (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

The Woods College of Advancing Studies is in the midst of a major transformation, with several recent and ongoing initiatives that include a new master’s degree in cybersecurity policy and governance, a redesign of its undergraduate program, and the appointment of a board of advisors composed of industry leaders, senior administrators and academics.
The college also plans to offer the University’s first fully online master’s program next fall.

“It’s been a busy year-and-a-half or so, but we are very confident in the direction things are moving,” said WCAS Dean James Burns, I.V.D., who was appointed dean in September of 2014 after serving as interim dean for two years. “The level of expertise we’re getting at the Woods College, combined with the new initiatives we’re introducing, make this a really exciting time for students to be here and for faculty to be teaching with us.”

The newly appointed board of advisors, made up of senior University administrators and chaired by former University Trustee John M. Connors ’63, has played a valuable role in supporting WCAS’ new degrees and programs, said Fr. Burns.

“The committee has been extremely helpful in reviewing and guiding our strategic planning effort, a five-year project that’s currently under way. We’re focusing on 10 strategic initiatives and are already making headway in successfully achieving our goals. It serves as our road map, if you will, for how we see ourselves moving and growing over the next three to five years, and is meant to be complementary with the direction of BC’s strategic plans.”

Woods College Dean James P. Burns, I.V.D. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

The WCAS master of science degree program in cybersecurity policy and governance, which began this semester, is unique among similar offerings in the northeast because it emphasizes cybersecurity policy along with executive leadership and management, critical thinking, and analytical problem solving, according to program director Kevin Powers.

“Our program is designed to bridge the communication and management gap between IT security professionals and senior business and government executives,” said Powers, a former Navy JAG officer and general counsel for a software company. “Cybersecurity has become a strategic priority for private industry and government and there is an increasing need for a unified approach to the challenges faced today.

“We not only prepare practitioners to manage cyber risk and develop strategies to effectively defend, mitigate and recover from a cyber attack, but also to design and make the case for investment to senior business executives and government officials.”

[Read an extended Q&A with Powers about the cybersecurity master's program here.]

The cybersecurity program follows on the heels of the master of science in applied economics program that debuted last spring. Under the direction of Sasha Tomic, the program features innovative practice-oriented courses taught by industry experts from organizations such as the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and academics with considerable work experience in energy industry and environmental consulting.

Also in the works for the applied economics program is a series of project-based classes in partnership with the Office of University Advancement, which will provide students with practical experience in managing and analyzing big data. The students’ insights may also prove useful in improving Advancement’s communication efforts, Tomic noted.

“While we are still in program-building mode, our focus on real-world, applied skills is resonating very well with current and potential students, as well as our contacts in industry,” said Tomic. “The interest in the program is growing and we have a strong applicant pool for the fall. We are also strengthening our faculty roster and our electives offerings to better prepare our students for the demands of the job market.”

Part of the WCAS strategic plan calls for a greater use of technology, and for WCAS to be a key site for incubation and innovation at Boston College. That’s why next fall, the college will offer BC’s first fully online master’s program – in executive health care administration – which will be both credit and transcript-based as well as a competency-based education.

“In many ways, a fully online master’s program is keeping with the current and foreseeable trend in higher education,” said Fr. Burns. “It also aligns with clear movements in technology-based platforms in place at most schools across the country – not just evening or continuing education schools but universities that are offering this through their day programs.”

Another change is the master of science in leadership and administration program, which replaces the MS in administrative studies. The MS in leadership and administration offers specializations in human resource management, executive leadership and organization development, corporate communication and marketing, and sports leadership, each available as stand-alone graduate certificates that will eventually be available online. Three more concentrations are planned.

The redesign for the WCAS undergraduate program has meant a stronger core, with each of the 14 majors now incorporating the best each academic discipline has to offer while addressing current industry needs, according to Fr. Burns. In addition, there are eight professional studies certificates that align with employer demands for applied skills, including finance and marketing, criminal and social justice, and human resources.

“We invited industry leaders from the areas in which we offer majors and certificates to determine what would be most attractive to them in terms of their needs as future employers of our students,” said Fr. Burns. “We’ve gotten a great response and have really strengthened the applied nature of our curriculum and program offerings, which allows our students to be very desirable to employers in areas such as business, communications, IT, economics and psychology.

“We’re thrilled with our upward trajectory. We really believe students who are enrolling are getting a rigorous, relevant, flexible education not only from our talented University faculty, but from highly accomplished experts who can take what they practice every day in the real world and bring it here to students in the Woods College.”

Sean Hennessey | News and Public Affairs